Ashley Little completed her MFA in 2014 at UBC Okanagan. Penguin Randomhouse published her most recent book, Confessions of a Teenage Leper. This is the fifth novel that Ashley has written and published.
The launch of this new book is planned for Thursday, September 27 at 7:00 pm at Perch Café in Kelowna.
We met with Ashley to discuss her book and to get some insight on her writing process.
Tell us about your novel.
Confessions of a Teenage Leper is a Young Adult novel narrated by 17-year-old Abby Furlowe, a cheerleader from Texas, who contracts leprosy (a.k.a. Hansen’s Disease) from an armadillo.
What was your process of researching for the book?
I originally thought I would write a historical novel about the D’Arcy Island leper colony (off the southern tip of Vancouver Island). I stayed on D’Arcy Island for three nights and saw the foundations of the buildings and the orchard that the residents tended. I went to the BC Archives and saw photos of the people who had lived on D’Arcy Island as well as some old newspaper articles about it some letters between a politician and a doctor regarding a concerned woman’s wish to go to D’Arcy Island to care for these people (they had no nurses or medical care).
I also did a lot of secondary research through books and film. I read quite a few memoirs from people who had lived at Carville (the centre in Louisiana where Abby goes for treatment in the novel) and an excellent ethnography of Carville as well, which helped me get a lot of the small details right; the fact that Carville does their own Mardi Gras parade for example, and has special gold doubloons pressed for the occasion, featuring an armadillo on both sides. I liked that so I used it in the novel. I read a non-fiction book by a doctor who had worked with Hansen’s Disease sufferers in India for forty years. I read a great novel called Molokai about a young woman with Hansen’s Disease who is banished to Hawaii’s lazaretto, and the films, Molokai: The Story of Father Damien, The Motorcycle Diaries, and a handful of documentaries. I called the Hansen’s Disease Treatment Center in Baton Rouge, the same one Abby goes to, and I told them I was writing a novel about this young woman who contracts HD, etc. and was it okay if I asked a few questions. They said sure and were glad to help me. So that’s how I confirmed a few final details that I needed to know for the novel.
What was your process in writing the book? How long did it take you?
I had already done about nine months of research before I started writing in June 2015. From Sept-Dec of 2015 I was the Vancouver Public Library’s Writer in Residence so I had a big chunk of time to work on it then. I finished a first draft at the end of 2015 and then did a substantial rewrite (at my publisher’s recommendation) from January-March of 2017, when I was Writer in Residence at Wilfred Laurier University.
Tell us what it was like to work with an editor?
I originally had a different story-line for Dean, Abby’s brother, one that did not end well for him… My editors at Penguin Randomhouse thought that it was detracting and distracting from the main story-line – Abby’s struggle with Hansen’s Disease – and so they wanted me to change it and the ending (since the ending was linked to Dean’s story-line).
I was sort of attached to my original, because it was really powerful emotionally, I thought, so I didn’t necessarily want to change it in the way they were suggesting. But, I eventually came around to seeing that they were right, and that it would be stronger to focus on Abby’s journey without clouding it up with Dean’s. That’s why editors are so great – because they see what you can’t… but if you can just let go of your ego for a minute and trust their guidance – you end up with a stronger story for it.
Tell us about your other recent publications and articles…or past ones
In 2016, I published Niagara Motel, which was my MFA thesis novel. It has since been longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award, a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, translated into German, and been produced as an audiobook.
Now I’m freaking myself out by working on a thriller for adults about a writer who has a stalker. It’s called Creep.